Today in Feminist History: Two Women (Illegally) Run the Boston Marathon (April 19, 1967)

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.

April 19, 1967: Though they had to do it illegally, two women have now run in the Boston Marathon!

Kathrine Switzer and Roberta Gibb ran today despite the race having been strictly limited to male athletes since its beginning in 1897 and the determination of officials to keep it that way.

Reporters spotted Switzer a few miles from the start, accompanied by two male college classmate runners. Because her hair was flying and she was no longer trying to remain inconspicuous, members of the press began making some remarks in the presence of race officials sharing the bus about there being “a girl in the race.”

Race Directors Will Cloney and Jock Semple ordered the bus driver to stop, then they ran toward Switzer. Semple tried to grab her, yelling: “Get the hell out of my race and give me those race numbers!”

(She got official front-and-back race numbers because her coach filed a health certificate for her as “K. Switzer,” so she did not need to take the pre-race physical exam and officials assumed that “K.” stood for a male name.)

Semple briefly grabbed her sweatshirt, but immediately one of the runners with her, Tom Miller, a former All-American football player and nationally-ranked hammer-thrower, used a cross-body block that sent Semple flying. That seemed to discourage the officials sufficiently to prevent any further attacks.

Gibb, the other female runner, apparently managed to run the race without being noticed until just before the finish line when an official stepped in front of her, blocking her path. Had she finished, her time would have been 3:27:17 and she would have been 266th out of 741. Gibb says that she snuck into the race last year and ran without anyone noticing that she was a woman. 

Switzer says she finished in 4 hours and 20 minutes, and that: “This was my first marathon and I wanted mostly to finish, so I wasn’t concerned about time and I jogged through.”

When asked about the international rule that bars track competition between men and women, and the Amateur Athletic Union rule in the U.S. that limits women to racing only up to one and a half miles, she said:

“Gee, I didn’t know about those rules. But I think it’s time to change the rules. They are archaic. Women can run, and they can still be women and look like women. I think the A.A.U. will begin to realize this and put in longer races for women … A lot of people said women couldn’t run a marathon. But I’m glad I ran – you know, equal rights and all that kind of business.”

Will Cloney feels differently, of course:

“Women can’t run in a marathon because the rules forbid it. Unless we have rules, society will be in chaos. I don’t make the rules, but I try to carry them out. We have no place in the marathon for any unauthorized person, even a man. If that girl were my daughter, I would spank her.”

It’s been said that “an ounce of experience is better than a ton of theory,” so now that today’s experience has clearly demolished the theory that women lack the stamina for marathons, the burden of proof now shifts to race officials around the country to justify banning women from running long races. Unless they can come up with some new – and indisputably valid – reason, they should immediately authorize women to run races of all lengths.


David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.